I’ve started working my way through The Evangelical Universalist, a book written under the pseudonym of Gregory MacDonald.
The author of this book advances the intriguing proposition that Christian universalism (the belief that all people will eventually be saved, though some will suffer temporarily in hell) is consistent with a relatively conservative reading of scripture, such as that which would be advanced by evangelicals.
As many of you know, I am what is sometimes termed a hopeful universalist. That is, I do not believe that scripture actually goes so far as to explicitly teach the concept of universal salvation. However, I do read the biblical witnesses to strongly hint at such a possibility. I also do not believe that the endorsement or teaching of universalsim is a heresy.
A concern that has always kept me from becoming a dogmatic univeralist (that is, someone who actually endorses and teaches it) has been that scripture does not speak to the question of whether God’s work of salvation continues after death. I Corinthians 15:29, which references the practice among early Christians of baptizing for the dead, comes awfully close for me. But it doesn’t actually endorse the practice, and I’m not comfortable basing a slightly unorthodox view of hell on a single, somewhat unusual verse.
Already, however, this book has me thinking. One of the early arguments that is advanced is this: if, in fact, scripture does not teach one way or the other as to whether God’s work of salvation continues after death, which view is more consistent with the overall picture that is painted in scripture?
The answer, the book argues, ought to be obvious: God’s universal love for all people, which – for the evangelical especially – drove him to offer his son on a cross, would surely not give up on a person simply because their physical body has submitted to death.